LETTER TO THE EDITOR OF THE IRISH TIMES about the future of Dún Laoghaire Town - August 2019
In response to an article in the Irish Times ( Dún Laoghaire's continuing failure to reinvent itself ) we felt motivated to write the following letter which, as yet, the Irish Times has not published.
With reference to Jennifer O'Connell's extensive article 'Dún Laoghaire, Can They Fix It' in the Weekend Review (31st August 2019), while it is agreed that our town shares many of the challenges towns across Ireland face, it is also important to acknowledge the initiatives that are emerging on the ground in Dún Laoghaire to counteract these challenges.
In May 2017 a pilot digital incubation space opened above Bank of Ireland, Dun Laoghaire in partnership with the Dun Laoghaire Business Improvement District. Since opening this centre has delivered the Digital Dun Laoghaire programme which has run over 25 events and workshops with a total attendance to date of approximately 1,100 business people. DigitalHQ clg took on this initiative earlier this year and is building an exciting new concept of digital learning centres funded through a 'coworking for community gain' model, whereby donations of unused space in town centres provide the incubation membership fees used to deliver events, training and digital services to traditional local small businesses.
At the other end of the town Glasshouses, now with two locations in Dun Laoghaire, has developed an expertise in taking former, vacant retail premises and converting them into high quality professional coworking spaces thereby bringing increased footfall and sales to local traders. Both locations are at full occupancy.
In our town it is the nature of the offering that is the challenge, so it (like many others) needs to evolve to address 21st century needs and opportunities. Saturday's article identified a long list of expensive capital intensive projects which have been proposed for the town and harbour. We argue that rather than wait for what a top-down, capital intensive approach to town planning might do for Dun Laoghaire, we believe that coworking can in years to come become one of the major uses of suitably sized unoccupied retail space. This will support remote working thereby cutting down on commuting and increasing the footfall of workers with disposable income for the remaining local businesses.
In these matters perception can become reality. The pervasive narrative that many Irish towns are in terminal decline needs to be challenged. The article noted what chance do towns that don't have the advantages of Dun Laoghaire have if the decline on the main street here can't be reversed. We believe that if towns have good road connectivity, public transport and unoccupied buildings that could lend themselves to coworking, then they have the basic ingredients to revitalise their main street offering through facilitating a new entrant to the high street mix, that of town centre work spaces. As noted by the new 'Grow Remote' organisation, motivated communities across Ireland are responding to the challenges and opportunities presented by the digital revolution through facilitating remote working. This is not just a matter for the state or local government to address, motivated corporate citizens that own under-utilised properties in Ireland's towns, with an interest in the future of their locality, can support this new movement and take ownership of the regeneration of their town at the grassroots level.
What DigitalHQ clg is doing in Dún Laoghaire town is not the total solution but we believe our approach can play a role in helping catalyse and sustain our small business community and the town they support.
Eoin Costello, Project Director, DigitalHQ clg
Chad Gilmer, CEO, Glasshouses